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Hidden Water Damage, Part 2: Drains

Faucets aren’t the only possible leak points. Drains leak, resulting in just as much damage. Drains also carry dirty, unsanitary water, so they’re generally messier and more unpleasant to repair than a leaking faucet. A leaking drain can produce a flood of dirty water and will start to smell bad in short order. If you come home one day and are confronted with a rotten sewer-like odor that you can’t quite pinpoint, check your drains for leaks!

Before you get too far into diagnostics and repair, verify that your drains are free-flowing. Clogs can cause backups and leaks around joints, so working with a clean drain is essential. If your drain is clogged or partly clogged, try using BioClean to clear the drain. Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating sells BioClean, a non-hazardous enzymatic drain cleaner that won’t harm your plumbing and is safe to handle. We use it and recommend it.

Once you’ve determined that the drain is clear, the most likely place to find leaks will be at the joints, or connections in the drain pipe. The hardware that actually joins two pipes together is called a fitting. Turn the water on and let it drain. If you spot leaks, make sure the drain fittings are tight.

Before you take any action, look for other telltale signs of trouble around your drain joints. If they show signs of deterioration, rust, mineralization or other corrosive damage, merely tightening the fitting isn’t going to help, and might actually make things worse. Corroded metal is permanently damaged and should really be replaced. Applying torque (force) to a damaged or weak fitting may break or crush the fitting and you’ll have to replace it anyway.

Most often, drains either use compression fittings or threaded fittings. Compression fittings are often found around sinks, faucets, and valves, and as their name implies, use a compressive force applied to an inner metal ring to make a tight seal. If a compression fitting is loose or damaged, a leak in the joint may occur. If you have a compression fitting that’s leaking, you can try to remove it, clean it and reapply it. If the fitting still leaks or the compression band appears to be damaged, replace it instead.

If you have compression fittings, it’s not a good idea to use Teflon tape or pipe dope to make a seal. These sealers are designed mostly for use with threaded fittings and may actually prevent a compression fitting from making a good seal.

Threaded fittings work just like a cap on a container. If you have threaded fittings, your drainpipe will also have threads to receive the connector. Replacing drain couplings is an uncomplicated and inexpensive repair. As long as you know the diameter of your drainpipe, you can find the right parts for the job at your local hardware store. If you have threaded fittings, clean off the pipe threads before applying the new fitting and use Teflon tape or pipe dope to seal the threads.

If you’re uncertain how to replace a drain, have problems with the main drain for your home, or need additional assistance with a plumbing repair of any kind, please contact Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating at (617) 288-2911 and we’ll be happy to lend a hand. We can check your drains for clogs and leaks, and repair potential drain problems before they cause real damage.